The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens
Can a racist, right leaning insurance executive write great poetry? There is an ongoing debate about a poet’s life and his poetry. Many examples can be found of a poet with a disgraceful life creating great poetry. Should the reader care? Certainly, I think. However, I can still admire many of Wallace Steven’s poems without liking Steven’s life and his narrow views. His unhappy wife thought his poetry pretentious and I tend to agree with her statement in general. Since he first published poetry at the age of 35, he was well into his career in a vast bureaucracy. Steven’s father had made sure that his son, above all things, would be able to earn a living. This dictum dominated Wallce Steven’s life. He made an excellent living even during the depression. How much the day to day work on sureties affected his life as an artist is not really addressed in this book. His life in Key West on vacation provide an interesting backdrop to his working life. There, he bad mouthed Ernest Hemingway in the presence of Hemingway’s sister. Hemingway showed up to knock Stevens repeatedly to the ground. Stevens later apologized. The poet died of stomach cancer at an advanced age. This book is well documented and researched.